Obama, Medvedev hail improving Moscow-NATO ties

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The US and Russian presidents on Sunday hailed improving ties between Moscow and NATO, days before President Dmitry Medvedev attends a summit with the Euro-Atlantic defence alliance.

The Russian leader is to join the Lisbon summit Friday, marking a thaw in relations with the alliance after the crisis caused by the war between Russia and the pro-Western ex-Soviet state of Georgia in 2008.

Medvedev, speaking after talks with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a Japan summit, said: "We stated the improvement of relations between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."

"And this is useful both to our countries and all parties involved," he said according to a White House transcript of their comments released later.

Obama also welcomed Medvedev's attendance at the Lisbon meeting, as he praised the "excellent relationship" between him and Medvedev, speaking after their meeting on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in Yokohama.

"It allows us to restart the NATO-Russia Council and a host of consultations so that we can reduce tensions and increase cooperation on various security matters in the European theater," Obama said.

NATO's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this month that the summit would "bury the ghosts of the past" between the former Cold War enemies and show the Russian people that "NATO does not see Russia as an enemy".

Medvedev has long promoted what he thinks should be a common European security strategy uniting the continent that was long split between the West and the Soviet bloc.

France, Germany and other Western powers have agreed to discuss this, but also remain tied to the NATO vision of a Euro-Atlantic pact including the United States and Canada, with a NATO-Russia council attached to it.

In Lisbon, the NATO powers are due to unveil their new "strategic concept", the framework within which the allies intend to coordinate their defence and foreign policy goals.

One of the recent disputes that has cast a chill over the slowly warming relations has been that of missile defence: Moscow has fiercely opposed US plans to deploy an anti-missile system in eastern Europe.

Washington insists the missile shield is designed to fend off threats from rogue states like Iran and is not aimed at undermining Russia's missile force as a deterrent. It has now promised to modify its plans.

In Lisbon, NATO will discuss setting up a joint alliance missile shield and has invited Russia to take part in it. Medvedev has given a cautious welcome to this idea, but said Moscow needed to hear more details.

Previous US plans to deploy an anti-missile system in former Soviet satellite states in eastern Europe angered the Kremlin, despite Western assurances they were aimed at states like Iran.

© 2010 AFP

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